Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On the limits of citations and arrests for combating panhandling and homelessness in San Antonio

An opinion column by John Brodesky in the Express-News (Dec. 12) lamented the limits of citations and arrests for dealing with panhandling and homelessness in downtown San Antonio. The article opened:
In its never-ending war on panhandling, the San Antonio Police Department has been deploying vice detectives to issue citations for aggressive solicitation.

All through the summer, vice detectives arrested people such as Rafael Alvarado for begging for money and wandering into traffic at busy intersections.

If the goal was to waste lots of time and energy, the tickets were a slam dunk. An analysis of city documents reveals an aggressive campaign against panhandlers — likened to a quota by one expert — that has produced plenty of citations and little else.

Most everyone agrees citing panhandlers is a waste of time. But public pressure to do something, the short-term benefit of moving people out of a problematic area and a lack of other options keep the citations flowing. Meanwhile, a pilot program to steer panhandlers toward treatment has languished due to a lack of funding.

If only we were as aggressive with preventive strategies.
Brodesky quoted a city memo from September declaring that “SAPD has initiated a citywide zero tolerance program on panhandlers and conducts weekly round-ups with arrests.” Nobody thinks that it's working but cops and politicians want to be seen as doing something, however pointless, and pols would rather pay for show than substance.

To Brodesky, "Municipal Court for a panhandler is like circling through a revolving door. The ones taken there loop through it without ever paying their fines because they are indigent, instead getting credit for time served. Factor in transporting and holding panhandlers, or the work hours put into citing them, and it’s downright costly." Thousands of these "quality of life" citations against repeat offenders were dismissed by the SA municipal court in 2014, he pointed out, as "defective" and pointless. His column concluded:
The department’s “mental health squad,” a six-person unit that responds to calls where a person might have mental illness, has saved taxpayers millions by placing offenders of minor offenses in treatment rather than jail.
In fact, [Chief William] McManus, Judge [John] Bull and a number of other judges and stakeholders have considered a similar pilot program for 10-15 panhandlers, but it hasn’t had much success, if any. The issue? Well, it’s ironic, really, but there is no money for it.

“Who is going to pay for the thing, or where are the beds going to be?” Bull asked.

Maybe then, our priority shouldn’t be more panhandling tickets, but funding this pilot program.
Really, it couldn’t be any less effective or wasteful.


Anonymous said...

Criminalizing poverty while bailing out Wall Street bankers - it's the conservative way.

Anonymous said...

I think the whole thing with ticketing panhandlers and the people helping them is the biggest load of crap I have ever herd. How about SAPD focuses on something bigger like um.... I don't know murders or the huge drug and prostitution problem in this city. I can't even walk to the door across the street from my apartment to buy a soda without being harassed by stupid men looking for a prostitut, and nothing seems to be being done. Why not do something about that? What if the person asking for help really needs the help, and the person giving the help what if God put it in their heart to help? That means that you are interfering with God's work and that is never a good thing.